Two words I’ve been seeing together a lot in the media recently are ‘millennial’ and ‘burnout’. I thought I’d share my own views on this new buzz word combination that people are using to describe their feelings and experiences in their twenties and early thirties.
If you’re not aware of the meaning of the two words, ‘millennials’ is the term used to refer to the generation of young adults born between 1981 and 1996 making them currently aged 22-37. ‘Burnout’ is the feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion from difficult or demanding conditions. When you put them together ‘millennial burnout’ suggests that modern day environments, and the social factors associated with it, are having a negative impact on a whole generation of people.
My experience of ‘millennial burnout’
If I had to reflect on my life right now I know I am doing alright for a 23 (soon to be 24 year old). I have a degree qualification, I’ve settled in to a brand new city, navigated a successful career change and am in a long term committed relationship with my boyfriend. I work full-time and also run a blog in my spare time, which I am working to turn into a business. I plan to buy a house with my boyfriend in the next year and frequently travel. I know, deep down, that I am doing well and that what I am doing is more than enough for someone of my age. However, there’s a niggling part of my brain that constantly tells me I need to do more. That the job isn’t finished. That I could do better. In other words, I’m still not perfect and I need to always continue to ‘improve myself’.
I’m fully aware that constantly going after perfection is an infectious disease and, in truth, it’s something that keeps me awake at night. I often find myself setting extremely high expectations of myself, that sometimes I’m aware I can’t even reach. I’ve internalised the idea that I should be busy working towards all my goals all the time. It is for that reason that I have real difficultly trying to relax and find it hard to switch off.
I’ve seen a few articles that blame ‘intensive parenting’ for the reasons young adults are experiencing millennial burnout but I’m not convinced that generational traits of parenting are entirely to blame. I’m certain my upbringing is not all that different from many other millennials’ who’s parents wanted the best for their kids, but it’s likely that this is where the seed was sown for my ambitious approach to life.
My parents had high expectations of myself and my siblings. I lived in fear of parents evenings, not because I was ever naughty, but because I was worried wouldn’t live up to my parent’s expectations. As well as wanting us to do well in school they also used to take me to about a hundred extra-curricular clubs a week (ok not quite a hundred) but I basically had no free time as I was always in school or at dance lessons, singing lessons, sport clubs or in drama productions. I have 3 younger siblings and the story is much the same for them. We were also encouraged not to quit. I specifically recall hating learning the violin in primary school. I had to kick up quite a fuss and ‘accidentally’ miss far too many lessons in order for my parents to let me give it up. I don’t blame them at all though, I know that they were trying to teach me resilience and determination and it definitely did do that.
This ‘need’ to try everything continued into university life where my parents also encouraged me to take up every exciting opportunity that was available to me. This meant studying abroad for one semester and completing a summer working at Camp America, all in one year. I’ve been chair of a society, had multiple part-time jobs and a busy social life. From a young age, my life has been constantly filled to the brim and so naturally that’s also what I wanted from adult life .
Throughout school I was a high-acheiver. I was in top sets at my comprehensive high school, in every school production, on the Gifted and Talented science scheme (no, still not an astronaut mum) and generally predicted high target grades. School repeatedly put pressure on me to ‘reach my full potential’ and I did well in my GSCEs compared to the rest of my year group but not so well compared to my high target grades. I moved from a comprehensive school to a grammar school for sixth form and as I was now amongst many extremely bright pupils I started to put immense amounts of pressure on myself to do better. Previous generations school experiences don’t appear to have been greatly different to Millennials so anyone of a similar ability would have probably experienced similar emotions whilst in school.
Technology and Social Media
There have, of course, been some much larger shifts in social factors that could justify an increase in millennials experiencing burnout more than any other generation. The availability of technology allows people to contact us at any given time of the day and to constantly be updated on the happenings in the world in an instant. Notifications mean that our attention is constantly being drawn to our phones and there is always something for us to manage from responding to texts from your long-lost Aunt in Australia to a reminder that you need to play the next level of Candy Crush. Couple this with the pressures of social media and this is what sets us apart from different generations. We live in a world where comparing yourself to edited photographs on Instagram is completely normal, no matter how ridiculous. Your friends 10th status update about his holiday gives the impression that everyone is living a perfect life (very unlikely). This pressure of comparison can drive us to do crazy things to achieve what we believe are similar experiences, which for some can lead to burnout.
Another element that makes us different as a generation is our economy. It’s common that generations will work to ensure that their children are better off than they were at their age. But, due to economic factors this can be difficult to achieve. In actual fact, most of us aren’t richer than our parents were and are financially worse off than they were at our age. This is based on the rising costs of living, including the hike in house prices and average wages going down.
How to avoid millennial burnout
“What’s to complain about?” I hear you ask. Absolutely nothing. I love my life and enjoy being busy. In my early twenties I had a couple of spells with anxiety. I’ve since been able to begin to identify what triggers this anxiety and find ways and means to make sure I don’t ‘burnout’ and go back into a downwards spiral. (If you’d like to read more about my experiences of anxiety I talk openly about it in my previous article “Time to Talk: Anxiety” )
I make sure I factor in time to relax, realising when I am doing too much. Sometimes, of course, this just isn’t possible when work is busy so I mainly use my boyfriend as a sounding board and talk about how things are overwhelming me. I know many people find it stressful factoring in exercise to their busy lives but I actually find it the best form of therapy for me. The more exercise I do in the week the better and more relaxed I feel. I’ve also had a change of career and my job now aligns with my wants and needs more than ever before.
One last (small) thing that I’d recommend to all millennial is reducing the amount of notifications that you allow to pop up on your phone. I don’t get any notifications from Facebook or Instagram, despite running a successful blog on both platforms. Nothing is urgent and I find myself checking in every few hours anyway so I don’t need a prompt to go on the app. I also refuse to have my work email on my phone or home laptop, I like to be able to switch off entirely when I get home.
So there you have it guys, my thoughts on #millennialburnout. Let me know your own experiences in the comments below and as always you can email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org